OUR VIEW: A promise we need to make

By Darrin Clark • Last Updated 11:26 am on Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Monday, The Daily News commented on the Michigan Senate Democrats proposal for a new version of the Michigan Promise, a state-of-Michigan version of the Kalamazoo Promise. Kalamazoo’s privately funded program guarantees scholarship grants to graduates of that city’s public schools.

In 2010, Michigan abruptly dropped an earlier program of tuition grants, breaking promises in the process. It was done because Michigan couldn’t afford the cost. The latest proposed state taxpayer-funded program would again grant tuition and associated costs for Michigan high school graduates at the state’s community colleges and public universities. Projected cost of the program would begin at $1.8 billion, roughly double the amount cut from K-12 school funding this year. The money would apparently come from the elimination of corporate tax credits in that amount.

To provide tuition and associated costs to all Michigan high school graduates is an admirable goal that should be prioritized in a rather long list of commendable programs state taxpayers support. The list goes well beyond education. Work down the list when and only when the state is in a financial position to maintain them all at a reasonable level.

Michigan currently has 48 K-12 districts running financial deficits, and 22 of them were in the red by a million dollars or more. Let’s first make sure we get our K-12 systems solvent, so we can send fully prepared students up to the next level.

Michigan four-year schools operate in a constitutionally mandated autonomy and collectively they current hold more than $4 billion in unrestricted funds. They are not accountable to the state in their handling of funds, and they are continually raising tuition rates. If a taxpayer-backed student tuition program was in effect, the financial operations of participating schools would certainly have to be more open and transparent to state government and the public.

It is in the student’s best interest and the general public’s as well, to have closer cooperation between community colleges and four-year schools, particularly in the transfer of course credits. Same goes for K-12 systems and community colleges. More dual enrollments make for a smoother educational track.

A critical part of any education is the teaching of responsibility. If we were to greatly reduce the cost of higher education to the students, perhaps some restitution in the form of required public service would be in order.

We’d better be sure that we have jobs in Michigan to retain our graduates. A strong job market requires a state that is friendly to business and industry. Otherwise, we’re just paying the training costs for eventual employers in another state.

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